The week of Christmas has always been a busy time for the Appalachianwoman. Parents, aunts, uncles and cousins would often visit, and that meant plenty of cooking.
Some Appalachian Christmas treats were fried apple pies, pumpkin, squash and mince pies, and popcorn balls.
One thing my mother made almost every Christmas was a striped cake. She would bake three cake layers, all flavored differently. Each layer was made from scratch. One was chocolate, one was lemon and one was vanilla. She would layer these together and ice them with homemade fudge icing. When it was cut, the cake was striped with the different colored layers.
My favorite of all her goodies were her sugar cookies. Sweet and soft, they resembled biscuits. I delighted in climbing up in a chair beside her and eating some of the dough as she rolled them out and used a glass to cut them.
Imagine the smell of an old fashioned stack cake baked in a wood cook stove. A stack cake is five or six thin layers of soft sugar or molasses cake with either dried apples or applesauce between the layers. My mother would make one every Christmas. The best thing about a stack cake is that it tastes better the next day.
Christmas breakfast consisted of round cathead biscuits, homemade sausage fresh from Thanksgiving Day’s butchering, and a rich, lightly browned, sausage or pork chop gravy. Fresh eggs were on hand, as well as applesauce and jellies, that were put up from the summer’s canning season, to round out the meal.
Chocolate gravy was a special treat made for Christmas breakfast. Chocolate gravy is a pudding type gravy made of sugar, flour, milk and cocoa powder, thickened and eaten with biscuits.
For the Appalachian woman from the past, there was no break because it was Christmas. Those eggs for the breakfast had to be gathered, the milk for the gravy had to be milked from the cow, and strained. The butter for the cakes had to be churned from the fresh sweet milk. This was all in a day’s work for our grandmothers.
Before poles dotted our mountains bringing electricity, all of these meals were cooked on a wood cook stove. Women often had to build a fire and keep it going all day in order to cook.
Our ancestor mother built fires, milked cows, churned butter, canned jellies, baked, and sweated for her family. Her family reaped in her hard work and she enjoyed the benefits of knowing her family was taken care of and was well fed, not only at Christmas but all year long.